80 to 90 percent of bread eaten in the UK is industrially produced in what John Letts (2014) calls a composting process, people in the industry refer to it as the Chorleywood process. We eat 9m loaves a day, illustrating its importance to our diet, mainly purchased through supermarkets. Wholewheat flour and bread potentially provides a myriad of nutrients, Vitamin E, B1, B2, Iron, Zinc, Bran along with micro and phytonutrients, but storage of flour is potentially an issue as these nutrients deteriorate significantly over and number of days or weeks (Campbell, 1991, Pickel & Pedersen, 1990) There are a growing number of craft bakers 77% of 71 respondents indicated they had inaugurated after 2008 (Gilhespy, 2014), but as Sharpe (2008) indicates the dominant industrial chain is very concentrated within a few millers, ingredient suppliers and bakers. This is preceded by an equally vertically siloed agricultural system. This dissertation is a practical examination of the antithesis of both these systems, the natural way of farming grain and of making bread from it.
Is it unreasonable to ask for authenticity in our food system? Is it therefore a mistake to ask for authenticity to be put back into our food system? I feel incensed at having been prostituted all my life by the food industry, ‘how dare somebody, and it always is ‘somebody’, that later turns into a ‘company’ and later an industry, take such a vital activity as food production and consumption and transform this into a pure-for-profit exercise!
Growing, processing and making everything yourself is as authentic as anyone can be. Everybody knows that homegrown fruit and veg tastes better than shop bought, or even restaurant made. How many people can say that homegrown bread is tastier than shop bought and restaurant made? How many bakers in the UK grow their wheat or can even say they know where their flour is grown? I have rankled with this question for months, because as I see it the question of traceability represents a problem of differentiation. Where do bakers get their uniqueness? If they mainly buy their flour from the same mills, which buy their grain from the same farmers, who grow the same seed, then the only differences can be with the water or their technique. This doesn’t represent authenticity in bread making to me.
Grain is a commodity (Baylis, 2014) it is the last bastion of the industrial food system (Pollan, 2014). The farming behind craft baking is not as special as the baking, (Paraphrased from Pollan, 2014). There is just a handful or people who treat farming their grain with equal reverence as the bakers treat their bread; I count five all of who add immensely to the quality of this dissertation. (I have missed off Gilchesters, Trill farm and Marriages as they were busy harvesting during the research of this dissertation so couldn’t contribute).
Most bread in the UK is the product of damaging cultivation, industrialized manufacturing and monolithic retailing rather than craft bakers (Sharp, et al,. 2008). Approx. 60% of the organic wheat milled in the UK is imported from places like Kazakstan (Stoate, 2014, marriage, 2014, Sharpe, et al,. 2008). 12m loaves are baked a day in the UK (Whitley, 2014) reflecting its importance in our diet, yet the modern bread making process is shrouded in self-regulation and complication (Sharp, et al,. 2008). During this process the grain is turned into flour and further mixed and commoditized, all traces of authenticity are wiped out (Sharpe, et al,. 2008)
The craft renaissance in baking is gathering speed this is proved by my survey, and by the Mintel data (2012). Consumers are willing to pay more for bread that has authenticity Mintel (2012) and bakers are providing this product, albeit not as authentic as John Letts, Andrew Whitley, Andrew Forbes et al, would like to see. This next step here in the UK has already been taken In the US, LA’s first city bakery has opened its doors, Grist and Toil. Nan, proprietor of the mill expunges views that resonate here in the UK.
“We have had quite a farm-to-table movement here in the United States with much more interest and emphasis being put (by consumers) on where their produce is coming from and how it is grown and treated. Wheat has been missing from this conversation, but I believe the interest is there and a small movement is beginning. It’s very exciting and quite overwhelming at the same time. Those of us on the ground floor of this burgeoning local grain movement are having to wear many hats and face a very steep learning curve.” Nan (2014)
Fat Uncle and Roan Mills the “farm-to-toaster bread business” (lamag.com, 2014) are producing grain for Nan’s mill and for themselves, and brewers and bakers realise that authentic grain sets their product apart from the competition, and growers in turn realise its their chance to escape the commodity market. As a grower of small amounts of wheat, I am inspired by businesses that use their product intelligently, understand their market and then engage with consumers. In the UK we have to look west for some of our inspiration. Monica Spiller, Grist and Toil, Boxturtle (Abraham is running a small scale open sourced grain growing and bread making business), but lets not forget that Andrew Whitley, Breadshare, Alex Gooch, Andrew Forbes, the Welsh Grain forum and of course John Letts all understand their product and market and are engaging with consumers, but in a £3.6billion industry their efforts are a drop in the ocean.
This project strives to make bread that in every way is authentic and join these pioneers in breaking through the industrial stranglehold. This meant I had to; source heritage seeds, pre-green revolution or older; grow the seed on organic land that had not be synthesized; use appropriate means to harvest and process; mill using stones and bake using natural ingredients, which meant sourdough. I also felt that I needed to use the flour as soon as it had been milled as this would be ‘fresher’. In order to test this hypothesis I wanted to use students to imbue themselves in bread that I would bake.
The project flowed naturally from internal thought to research, to reflection, practice, evaluation and progression. This is typical action-research and will be explained in my methodology, it applies to every part of this project and I hope it informs your enjoyment of reading about it.
Mid October 2014 – writing up the project. A window into post bread making.
I want to disperse my body to the stars, I want my eyes to see the end of lives and the beginning of new ones, I want to kiss the air and feel its desire, I wish to hear what birds are saying to one and other. The whole world is my lung and I feel the creatures, the people, the things the mountains and the deep seas of the past and the future entwined within them. If I am to breath with reality, beyond my wildest dreams then I need to free my body from this brain chocked with fumes of countless poisonous encounters and dissipate into Nature.
Qualitative – Interviews
Quantitative – Online Survey
Free choice profiling (Light)
Ways of seeing – Phenomenology, Goethean science
“Action research is a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes….. It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people, and more generally the flourishing of individual persons and their communities.” (Reason and Bradbury 2002)
According to Herr and Anderson (in The Action Research Dissertation, 2005), action research is concerned with both action (improvement of practice, social change, and the like) and research (creating valid knowledge about practice).
The project started in March 2014 and completed in October 2014. During this period I conducted several open interviews with growers, millers and bakers, despite many attempts the mainstream industrial processors and retailers refused to engage. The main participants were John Letts, John is one of two UK growers to grow heritage wheat on a large scale, Martin Wolfe is the other, who I also interviewed. Heritage wheat is the only wheat type that is not part of the industrial system that has caused so much devastation for our planet. Andrew Forbes is another grower of heritage wheat, but on a smaller farm scale. He has been through the process I am documenting and was a great source of information. Andrew Whitely is a leading baker who is a leading spokesmen and activist for real bread. He is joint founder of the real bread campaign that has 9k followers and 650 active baker contributors; he has been an inspiration and a great source of information. Debbie from Bread share, works with Andrew, together they are pioneering a new campaign called ‘Scotland the bread’ which is working to bring the processing of real bread back to Scotland. I interviewed her over the phone in the summer of 2014, as I did with Andrew Whitley. Their project involves growing heritage wheat, which they acquired from the James Hutton institute, as I did for my project, milling it locally and making sourdough bread from it to sell locally. All the people I have mentioned so far I interviewed, as they are pioneers in growing heritage grain that they link with baking, which is of course what I am attempting. I also talked to two other growers, one organic arable grower, James Jones and another retired arable grower Alan Baylis. James was a professor at the Royal agricultural school and now grows 500 acres of arable in south Devon. He is relevant because he is growing wheat in an area close to me and could be a partner in growing and processing heritage wheat, without having to invest in processing equipment, and because he understands agriculture from an academic perspective. Alan Baylis was very interesting and was chosen for his families part as pioneers of the large scale arable growing in the UK. He would give a different perspective on the pressures on arable farmers.
I also interviewed a few key millers and a couple of small mills. Michael marriage of Dove’s interviews were conducted over email and were brief in content, due to his time pressures working as head of a large and very successful business. Michael Stoats of Stoats millers, established in the 1800’s, is from a pioneering family who were among the first to ship in grain from Canada to make ‘better bread’. We talked about connections and supply over the phone. I also talked at length to Sally Newton Mill, face to face, Custodian Cotehele Mill, a national trust water mill and to Felin Ganol mill in wales, as they are part of the Welsh grain forum. The purpose of interviewing millers was to ask questions around grain supply and customer links to see if they supplied local businesses and milled grain from local farmers.
All the industrial processors I tried to contact, Kerry’s food, Warburtons, European grain, KWS-uk, and their trade bodies, the baking federation, the British baking society, either refused to talk, ignored me or sent me from person to person. I felt a certain amount of suspicion from the people I contacted, when I was simply asking them about their role in the bread making industry.
The bulk of my later research involved bakers contacted through twitter. I assumed because they are on twitter talking about bread, showing their loaves and conversing on matters like ‘natural or manufactured yeasts’ that they were ‘craft’ bakers. I talked to approx. 70 bakers. All of them partook in my survey. Initial contact through twitter was followed by key interviews. I interviewed Ben at E5 bakehouse and Alex Gooch as they were both experimenting with heritage grain, bought from John letts and were thinking of growing their own grain.
The interviewees were all told before hand that my findings would be going into a dissertation. If they didn’t mind the interview went ahead. All interviews were recorded and some were videoed.
The online survey I ran was through survey monkey and asked question to bakers, contacted through Twitter. I asked them about their supply chains, as I wanted to see if the old industrial forms of supply were still dominant, I asked a question on inauguration dates, as I am interested in the growth of craft bakeries as an industry.
I see phenomenology and Goethean science as a substructure of the whole project, from seed selection right trough to bread eating. It also directs interviews and makes sense of findings. Following Goethean science and Phenomenology is an act of animalization and of transformation of the person, which stands in stark contrast to the conventional images of science as a means to control the natural world (Robbins, 2005). This is then followed by the understanding that what you are feeling is a conversation your body is having with ‘everything’ around it. Your body is not a separate inanimate framework as Bacon, Decartes and Newton would have us all believe, but a porous membrane that is continually exchanging and communicating with everything around it.
But, as Abram (1996) says, I cannot truthfully says that my perception of the wheat berry with its character and taste is determined entirely by the wheat plant itself, since others may have a different view of this character and taste – phenomena we will investigate latter – and indeed even I might ‘read’ its character and flavor differently on another occasion, altered by my mood. Then of course the character and flavor of the berry alters almost endlessly according to the being or particle that comes into contact with it (Abrams, 1996). Abrams (1996) also reflects that the perception cannot solely come from the mind either, for without the existence of the wheat berry itself its character and taste would not be discernable by person or any other body that comes in contact with it. Neither the perceiver or perceived is wholly passive in the event of perception.
Taste is a perceived quality that is at once given to us and perceived by us, it’s a kind of muddled problem for our bodies to solve (Abrams, 1996). In order to taste something deeply you must find the attitude to decipher and disentangle. But, I for one have never genuinely found the key to that problem. I have found the conversation my body and the ‘bodies’ are having as almost private. There are some people, as my taste test will show, that are able to swim in the patterns that emerge from these conversations and to articulate them, as Merleau-Ponty did as described by Abrams (1996). What Merleau-Ponty gave to us is a magnificent gift to combine the ability to swim with other bodies and to articulate them, not in an idiosyncratic way, as some critics called it, but in a way to rework what are often passive voices into active. This mode of language brings alive the subjects and brings the subject flooding into our bodies and minds.
Goethean ways of knowing give preeminence to phenomena in the same sense as phenomenology (Bertoft, 2012). Understanding phenomena is to engross in the world of perception as Merleau-Ponty (1962) wrote, “All consciousness is perceptual. The perceived world is always the presupposed foundation of all reationality, all value and all existence”. Consciousness, in this form, was not the internalization or solipsism occurrence that Husserl’s critics rallied at him, but a deep connection with the world around us that we all ‘live-in’ and that sustains us (Abram, 1996)
The founding farther of phenomenology, Husserl’s, hoped that phenomenology, would become a foundation for all other sciences based on the everyday lived “science of experience”. As he saw it the fabricated foundations they currently stood on needed replacing. I strongly believe that in order to bring authenticity to bread making I have to live the ‘whole’ process. I have to dive into every part of it and open my whole body, every sense, all feelings and develop a the skill of catching the phenomena in the act and articulate it, just as Holdredge or Abram (1996) do so skillfully. Then I will be able to develop a project that not only delivers a product that people can engage with, but a whole way of being that people can cavort with, this would for the foundations of any grain business I undertook in the future..
March 2014 – Wheat
The first cycle of research and action
Today, wheat is the world’s dominant cereal crop (Davidson & Passmore, 1986, citied in Campbell, 1991) unrivalled in its range of cultivation, from 67º N in Scandinavia and Russia to 45º S in Argentina, including elevated regions in the tropics and sub-tropics (Feldman, 1995, cited in Shewry, 2009). It is also unrivalled in its range of diversity and its world trade is greater than all other crops combined. It has also been used to control foreign policies (Borlaug, 2014). The total world harvest of wheat is 600m to 700m tones a year. For comparison in 2007 it was about 607 m tones compared with 652 m tones of rice and 785 m tones of maize (http://faostat.fao.org/). The adaptability of wheat partly indicates why wheat is such a dominant crop, but what really sets it apart is its bread making qualities. Humans have known for 100’s of years of the unusual qualities of wheat. These properties, which are usually described as rheological properties are particularly important in making leavened bread, as they allow the entrapment of carbon dioxide released during leavening, attributed to proteins, glutamines and glutamates (Shewry, 2009) that gives the bread structure and makes it rise.
The wheat seed I wanted was heritage and ideally a population – a genetically mixed group of wheats. John Letts grows the best populations in the UK. He collected wheat seeds over 15 years from around the globe, on travels and from seed banks, that he now grows on his farm (Letts, 2014) it is illegal for John to swap, give away or sell these seeds. These seeds are mavericks in a world controlled by chemical companies, the top ten own 67% of the global seed market (http://faostat.fao.org/). In the UK the “national list” keep maverick seeds and growers in check. In order to appear on this ‘national list’ the seed has to be proved to be distinct, uniform and stable (DUS) and this test costs £2,000 and has to be completed every season. Formed back in the 1920’s to protect farmers from unscrupulous seed dealers. Wolfe (2014) argues,
“in the 1920’s the distinct, uniform and stable (DUS) tests were thought of as essential to combat unscrupulous seed merchants protecting farmers from seed that didn’t germinate in the bought form or did so in reduced numbers. But, this ‘protection’ for the farmer has now been hijacked by global chemical companies who now ‘OWN’ seeds.”
This isn’t the only hurdle for any prospective grower to step over, there is also the CUV test (“cultivation use value”) which means the crop must prove itself as good as or better than those already listed when farmed “conventionally” (ie with high chemical inputs). These two tests are supposed to ensure good-quality seed that meet certain standards, but for the small scale wheat growers, like me, these lists are elitist and do not allow ‘evolutionary breeding” Suneson (1956) or populations, two areas that need encouragement and investment to bolster us against further monoculture domination and devastation. As a small scale grower there is little point even contemplating growing the same two wheat’s, Mulika and Paragon, being grown by mainstream organic growers. I cannot compete and do not want to compete in a global commodity market, where a 1200 acre UK farm struggles to make a living year on year (Baylis, 2014) and a 500 acre farm achieves £200 an acre in a good year on his best fields. The issue as Jones (2014) and Baylis (2014) explained that in a good year the glut of wheat brings the price down, in a bad year the price goes up, either way the farmer losses.
There had to be a better way, more aligned with the John Letts’s approach, than simply growing grain as a commodity. Heritage grain is grown by a few pioneers in the UK (as detailed already) has potentially better nutrient levels (Letts, 2014. Whitley, 2014. ???) And in the US by Spiller (2014) and a growing band of people that are making a living from it. All these inspired me to grow. The two main wheat’s I have grown are Emmer and April bearded. Emmer is one of the original wheats developed in the Fertile Crescent in the late Stone Age some 10,000 years ago (Letts, 2014). April bearded was selected by John Letts and supplied to me from the grain he grew on his farm in the Chilterns. They both expressed themselves in their own ways. Emmer is wise, resolute, confident and trustworthy. Emmer is showy, confident, and assured. It dances with its old friends the soil, wind and rain. It embraces mycelia and exchanges stories from long ago. In character it is flat like an arrowhead. April bearded ears are rounder and longer, as a being it is less sure of itself, struggles and fights for its position. Is constantly being pushed and harried by others. It wants to impress, but has a hard job doing so every time, but when it succeeds it parades in full regalia. In practical terms Emmer had a longer growing season and was still green when April bearded was brown, dry and facing ground wards ready for harvest. The price of heritage wheat grain is higher, but not so high as to rely on it as your end product, unless you have at least 100 acres (Letts, 2014). Visiting John Letts on his farm in April 2014 made everything clearer. John had told me that previously that the only way to make money out of grain was to make bread or pasta from it. Durum wheat is easily grown in the UK so pasta is a good option (Letts, 2014). Or if you can grow wheat and make bread from it your £200 an acre for grain increases to (1200 loaves at £2.00) to £2,400 an acre. As you will read its not that simply. I had also learnt through buying the grain seed/ wheat berry that there could be a business in supplying heritage wheat seeds to enlightened growers and farmers. A 30g bag of heritage seeds costs £3.50. Spiller (2014) is selling her grain on farm scale and is part of a non for profit organization.
The trial plots of in Devon of 30g each of various wheat’s were eaten by the rabbits – see figures 1 & 2. Next time I will fence off. These plots are precious and need protecting, as they are the foundation of any heritage grain business.
Figure 1. 1x1m plots of heritage wheat planted on the 18th April, 2014. Photo taken by researcher.
Figure 2. April bearded Heritage wheat, showing rabbit marks, planted April, 2014. Close up showing some of the rabbit marked stems. Photo taken by researcher.
These plots were planted by myself and John Letts at his farm near the Chilterns, they faired rather better, as you can see from figure 3 – see below- and had very little sign of rabbits liking them as food.
Figure 3. Plots of various types of wheat (June, 2014) planted in April, 2014, by John Letts and researcher.
The second cycle of research and action
Despite public opinion (48%) of users think that bread is not a good option for those trying to lose weight (Mintel, 2013); wheat is actually very good for you. It contains Vitamin E, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Iron, Zinc, proteins, amino acids, and many phytonutrients (Shewry, 2009, Whitley, 2014). The real issue has been for a longtime, and still remains, that industrially made bread, which in the UK is 80% to 90% of sales (Shewry, 2012, Whitely, 2014, Mintel 2012) removes all these nutrients, but then by law has to fortify with others. Grain, if stored at low levels (12%) of moisture, doesn’t spoil easily and can be of bread making quality decades later (Rose et al, cited in Campbell, 1991). However, grinding removes the protective layers and endangers the grain’s biological stability (Campbell, 1991).
The other trickier issue to rankle with and obviously more important to craft bakers is that of flour changes during storage. Whole wheat flour changes, some argue partly losing its nutrient content in days, Pyler (1973) (Solder 1984, Bruker 1984, Schnitzer 1986, Schnitzer (no year), Thomas 1982, Thomas 1986, Koerber 1986, cited in Campbell, 1991) whilst others argue that sensory quality (Hansen and Rose, 1996) and functional properties (Galliard, 1994; Pomeranz, 1988; Tait and Galliard, 1988, Pickel & Pedersen, 1990) change due to rancidity in 2 -14 days and set limits of 15 – 60 days storage. The important components here are gluten and lipids. Lipids are a tiny part of flour content but play a vital role in glutens elasticity and ability to hold gas (Carr et al., 1992; Miller and Kummerow, 1948, cited in Cambell, 1991) which is of course what bakers look for when making a loaf.
What is clear is that as soon as the grains protective coating has been smashed changes begin to happen that the UK and US craft baking industries don’t fully grasp, as these quotes from eminent millers, grain growers and bakers illustrate.
“I am sure that stoneground wholemeal flour loses nutrients after milling but I don’t have chapter and verse. The most likely losses are in the vitamins because the minerals don’t change. Wheat flour is a good potential source of B vitamins and E. The latter is in the wheat germ oil and is, I think, relatively volatile. When it oxidises (through contact with air) it goes rancid and bitter, signifying a loss of nutritional value. My guess is that the B vitamins are not quite so volatile, but I’m not sure. …. If there is robust evidence of significant losses in hours or days, the case for fresh milling by bakers will be greatly strengthened.” (Whitley, 2014)
I wrote to Monica Spiller and asked for her thoughts on nutrient changes during storage. “We too have been re-re-viewing questions of the stability of vitamins in stone ground whole wheat flour particularly. The fat soluble nutrients seem to be the most vulnerable to changes.” Spiller (2014)
Nan from Grist and Toil wrote to me about nutrient and rheology changes, “A baker in Northern California who mills his own wheat and bakes only whole grain naturally leavened breads told me that he notices no difference at all in baking characteristics. What is most obvious to him is that freshly milled whole grain flour loses its aroma pretty quickly after being milled. He thinks it is dramatically less aromatic even one day later. A baker I spoke with in Washington State said that when they received their locally milled whole grain flour they absolutely loved it on the first day, then found it very difficult to work with for the rest of the week, and then once the bag was almost empty and it was time for a new one they liked the flour better again. He is the only one to ever speak to me of dramatic differences in baking characteristics of stone milled whole grain flour. I myself have not experienced that, nor have any of the local bakers I work with who I’ve asked to try and pay attention to those kinds of details for me.
There is no official definition here for “green” flour, or non-aged flour – other than a sort of generally accepted idea that if you are intentionally trying to age a flour it should be for at least 2 weeks.
I think most would agree that best case scenario would be to mill the flour and then bake with it immediately. I, however, find that stone milled flour is such a superior product to our American mass produced roller milled flours, that even if the aroma tapers off a little bit (and every time I open a bin of my flour the aromas remain intense – I have customers smell the flour all the time and at various time points after milling…) it is still better for baking with much more aroma and flavor, whether 1 day old or 1 month old.” (Grist & Toil, 2014)
I will look at milling the grain and making bread from it straight away, I’ll not be able to run lab tests on Vitamin E, which I would of liked, but In order to be worth while laboratory test I would have to test a number of flours from different grains, the rabbits appetite saw to it I didn’t have the variety of grain to test as I originally planned for. I will be able to to test rheology and people expressions thereafter and If I coach people and use people already versed in Goethean science and Phenomenology then use their descriptions and turn them into a type of free choice profile then the data, both statistical quantitative and descriptive qualitative will be very worth while.
Wheat and Diary
The third cycle of research and action
Wheat being such an important crop globally and full of nutrition, if treated right; stone ground milled, stored correctly and used before going rancid, meant that it was also an important crop for me and my family. If I could grow some, process is and make bread from it, then I would be on the way to making my family more self-sustaining. If I could grow ‘valuable’ grain and find someway to make it even more valuable and steer clear of the global commodity market then It could well be a source of income too. But boy did I have some big hurdles to climb over. Steering clear of the commodity markets meant I had to research local supply chains.
Why had local wheat growing and supply disappeared? The commodity obsession It started with synthetic chemical usage upping yields during the depression (Baylis, 2014) and enabling those connected to synthetic companies to buy up land from struggling farmers. They then expanded their farms. In the mid to late 1930’s and into the 1940’s & 1950’s the arrival of the combine from Germany and America boosted production and changed arable farming unequivocally (Farminguk, 2014, Lack 2005). A succession of wheat geneticists and plant breeders through to Norman Borlaug saw to it that wheat became a specialist crop of potential high yield and stability, it was short so didn’t fall over (Mclean, 2014). Combined this meant we had bigger farms, fossil fuel led processing, and potentially huge yielding plants, which could, as the propaganda goes, help feed the growing population of the world. Only its not happened like this. Synthetic use has poisoned our planet, (Carson, 1962, Letts, 2014). People were thrown off the land, less than 1% of the UK population now makes its living off the land, down from 40% 100 years ago, replacing people with machines is not the best policy. The Norman Borlaug green revolution has poured synthetics on to land like never before as weeds were outgrowing the short wheat and depleting yields.
This research lead me to Fukuoka and his one straw revolution, and Marc Bonfils and to John Letts, and Martin Wolfe. They were and are growing wheat In a natural way, choosing varieties that were grown before the green revolution, not applying synthetics, and allowing nature to imbue the wheat with everything it needed to compete. Yields were reported as good as the best in Japan (Fukuoka, 1975) and yields on Letts (2014) fields are equal to those of modern organic farms.
I embarked on following Letts and others in trying to grow gain that was better for the soil and more nutritional (potentially) than conventional organic grain.
The lack of time was a major pressure on this project from the outset. Spring Wheat/ cereal is traditionally planted in March or April, giving it 90 – 120 days to reach maturity and harvest, before the nights grew longer and the frosts came and killed off the wheat. If I planted it before the middle of April I’d just about be OK.
I began this project by thinking about the elements involved as listed in order of priority here:
- The plot and land to grow on
- The seed to plant
- The land preparation
- The planting process
- The growing period
- The harvesting
- The processing of the seed
- The final product… emergent
Pitfalls and additions to the cycle of learning
Being ensconced in the land is crucial to being able to adapt the project as it develops. This is essential and should inform all other areas of the project. There will be many variables that, if not planned for and counteracted, could mean the demise of the project in year one:
- Seed collecting is a long and costly process. Bulking up your seed requires at least three years
- Weeds – weeds are the number one problem of any organic farmer, Letts (2014), Lodgson, (2009).
- Disease – rust and blight are the two biggest problems, Wolfe (2014).
- Lodging – too much residual nitrogen, not enough potassium
- Weather – too wet during harvest time, wind might cause lodging
- Lack of equipment – increases costs
- Social considerations – who are your neighbours and how are you interacting with them
- Prepare for animals to eat and trample your crop – do put up a rabbit fence if you are growing small plots
- Renting your field is only the start of a process of preparation of the land
- Processing your grain is hard work
- Making bread from your grain requires a lot of extra equipment as does pasta making.
In order to counter these potential issues, measures should be taken such as:
- Take your time to grow and collect your precious seeds before embarking on a farm scale project
- Planting clover to help smother weeds and help soil health and therefore plant health (mainly in year two and beyond)
- Clear weeds off your plot prior to planting. Be sure to cultivate your seed bed properly
- Plant mixed genetic populations to combat disease should it take hold and to hinder with lodging
- Seek more than one means of production so as not to rely on one person to help with processing
- Attempt to interview a number of people growing, processing and retailing to counter social issues
- Enjoy the animals; bask in the endless cacophony of bird song; become a badger and follow their trails through your grain; enjoy the scurrying rabbits as they enjoy being hidden in the long stalks of your grain
- Clearly set out your aims and desires to all involved and complete any agreements made to your landlord
- Harvesting your grain in anything up to ½ an acre can be done with sickles, avoid scythes as they make a mess of the ear and straw, and a hand help garden sucker/ mulcher (Spiller, 2014)
- Anything over ½ an acre of grain needs to be done with the help of machinery – steam preferably
- Bread making is an expert task and even if you can make good bread, like I can, you will need; a mill, the kitchen top ones are fine for 3kg of grain a day; a large sieve; a good sized oven, and even then the loaves will not be as good as a baker can get them.
April 18th to August 21st
Summary of my weeks in the field: I developed alongside the wheat, my articulation and my knowledge. The wheat has guided my sentient and sensible as it has imbued my very being exchanging perceptions with me and everything else around it. The soil has occupied us all with it’s tales of long off relationships and gallantry. The wind has cajoled us and enlivened song, from the proud trees to the north of the field. The butterflies, beetles, bees and flies came to celebrate and dance among the tall wheat adding tints of sound that reverb gently quivering the muscles of ones own body. Levy-Bruhl, cited by Abram (1996) believed that plants, animals, places, persons and powers “may all be felt to participate in one and another’s existence, influencing each other and being influenced in turn”. Participation, according to Merleau-Ponty is a defining quality of perception itself. Wheat has gathered me in to its world and enveloped me in a sumptuous and elegant liaison that consciously sprouted in the spring of 2014 and will never end.
I have diarized all my days in the field and the days processing the wheat. They are detailed in the appendix.
I wish I had understood phenomenology to a greater extent when I started the project in order to fully understand and enjoy the precious moments I had in the field now that they are over. I wanted now to travel back in time and ‘feel’ every stage of the process with my whole body, to connect all my senses and articulate, as I now feel better able to do.
Aug 28th – Harvest Day
Harvest day. My concern was that I had never harvested any grain and that I really needed to understand when to harvest. Logsdon (2009) suggests pulling a few ears/ heads off and rubbing them to release the seed. Put them in your mouth and bite them, if they crunch then they are ripe; if they are at all chewy, it is not ripe. Moisture levels need to be below 12 to 13 percent to enable safe storage, (Logsdon, 2009).
The sound of the cracking wheat as the scythe rhythmically ended this stage of its life mesmerized, a new sound that had pricked my ears and bought the senses to life. A comparable sound that will nestles in the minds of most I cannot think of just yet. It’s a pleasant sound, but at the same time dramatic, a snapping sound that has no synthetic equivalent. We chatted about the wonderful sound as we worked along our lines of grain. Three people scythed and one racked and bundled. We tied the bundles with New Zealand Flax. The field is 66m long and we had approx. five strips of a 1m. The rate we worked those strips really surprised us all, as we had expected to be there all day cutting and bundling. From the rate we were scything we decided we’d have it all cut down by 2pm. We put the brakes on and spent time bundling and tying. We started back at 2:15pm and by 4pm we were all bundled and packed into the van ready for the next stage.
It was noticeable how the human activity had dominated the environment, I had little noticed the poplar trees and their beautiful leaf chimes that had been so apparent before, the birds had fallen silent, the crickets scattered and the butterflies hidden. Or had they? Had my focus, body and mind, switched off. I had just become immersed in harvesting and friends that the world outside had dissertated into the background. This is what happens when you don’t think about Nature.
I was concerned that the straw and ears of wheat were all mixed up, I that as a consequence the processing would be more time consuming; If you have all the ears at one end its easier to thresh.
Aug 23rd to Aug 28th
Processing –practically & spiritually
The fourth cycle of research and action
This has been a time of major discoveries among hours of inquiry.
The major discoveries: The two major areas of concern for anyone wishing to grow grain that isn’t derived from modern highly glutinous and stunted grains are seed and processing. ‘Seeds’ is a previously stated, but ongoing story, and something we have mentioned in more detail elsewhere in this document. The main concern now is processing.
Hours of inquiry: How do you take a Renault Trafic full of straw and grain and separate the two and process into a product that is clean and ready for milling? The choices according to my research are limited because; all the farm scale processing equipment has been left for Nature to take back, breaking it down from wood, iron, rubber and leather into molecules and returning it to the form from hence it came; and the skills needed to harvest and process field scale by hand have gone with them (Letts, 2014, Spiller, 2014, (small scale grain growing book).
I went through the following:
- Separate the straw and wheat berries by bodily force, either by hitting it with a stick or by treading on it. Which is what happens if you don’t have fossil fuels
- Use a machine to chomp up the straw and pummel the berries away from their housing.
The machine I used was a leaf blower see figures ? to ?.
With the help of Abraham at http://boxturtlebakery.com I found a way to thresh the grain – separate the grain from the straw – by using a leaf blower, sucker, mulcher.
Figure ?. Threshing with the leaf blower. Showing the researcher pushing straw with attached wheat berry into the shoot.
The sucker has a plastic blade that chops the straw and unsettles the grain.
Figure ? the blade of the sucker, 2014. Researchers own photo.
Once the van load of straw and grain has been through the machine I end up with a mixture of straw and seed.
Figure ? straw and wheat berries separated, but still as one mass, 2014. Researchers own photo.
Then I sift the straw by using agile hand movements, the wind and a kids paddling pool… and I get this. A bowl of seed with a iphone in it for scale. The seeds are a fair size and the colour is healthy.
Spiritually I felt myself processing the world differently as I in turn processed the grain, which in turn focused my thoughts on why I was motivated by growing my dissertation as well as writing it. I wanted to feel growth and change through my skin, in my muscles and I was desperate to engage my body with the consciousness of the grain. On a practical level I could envisage the bread made from the wheat berries I had planted sevon months earlier and this excited me. When I really ‘sat back’ and thought about what Abram (1996) and Bortoft (2012) were saying it was only then that I made the connection of making flour from the grain as a destructive process. I rationalized this with the thoughts that I would be creating a whole new distinct product entirely linked to the wheat berries the plants and the whole and that I was giving it a new life. What still remained though was that I was tearing this living being into minuscule pieces and using it for my own gain.
Practically Flour maturation and deterioration started to fascinate me at this point. I intrinsically imagined the particles of the wheat berry being bonded with other materials like oxygen and changing their whole personality. The literature had proved this happens, as discussed earlier, but it wasn’t until this point that I realized how important flour changes are to the industry and possibly to the consumer. If rapid deterioration is proved then the reinstating of local mills and their connections to farmers and bakers becomes compelling. I envisaged testing freshly ground grain for baking qualities, structure and taste against something shop bought and considerably older.
On reflection this project was about wheat grain and about the processes that consume our society and about how we as individuals do something about altering those controls. It seamed to me that within food systems, as a control, the grain had suffered the most, it is the last bastion of the industrial food industry and was given scant regard by the new food movement (Pollan, 2014). It has been so bastardised that people think of it as a filler, as something that gains you weight (???). This is little wonder given the Chorleywood process. My research had shown this need not be the case.
Monday September 15th
Spiritually: I just mussed over my thesis and possible flour and bread tasting experiments with Craig Holdridge. I take from this that the phenomenological expressions are exactly that, expressions. Its in the expression – language, movement, art – that the nuances of the thing you are experiencing reveals itself. The phenomenon is known, but is unexpressed if there is the wrong expression or no expressions at all. The expressions are fuller and more nuanced if the person has a fuller vocabulary and is trained in expression.
I asked Craig in light of this how to approach the preparation of the planned flour and bread test. I mentioned that I didn’t want to give people the words to express their tastes and feelings and that I would, as a painter, like to talk to them about the prism of colour – Maybe there is a prism of taste. Does acidity blend into bitterness, does it then bleed into sweetness, change to sourness and then amalgamate with saltiness? – expressed not in the Newtonian way of ‘yellow’, ‘red’, ‘blue’ etc blocks of colour that could be randomly placed in the light prism, but colours that graduate from one to another in a myriad of variety from dark indigo blue, through magenta, cadmium, coral, alizarin, vermillion towards the oranges. I could write on and describe 100’s of colours as I have painted with many of them and lusted after more, but the argument is clear. The nuances and being able to articulate them is where phenomenology resides.
The dichotomy Craig and I discussed is, that in order to express the phenomenon you have be able to express yourself, eulogize and deliver in words, through your left brain that which your right brain, your sensuous-intuitive nature feels. That as Bertoft discusses, is where the problem of onomatomania begins. What if you can’t think of an accurate word? This question is particularly poignant and frustrating for a dyslexic onomatomanian like me. Are people like me stuck in a bland world unknown of genius wordsmiths like Goethe and Shakespeare? Am I always going to be bereft because of dyslexia and onomatomania?
Craig conveyed a cautionary note. We have to be careful not to express plants, bread, or even animals in anthropocentric terms. A plant isn’t happy or isn’t being upset or sad. Bread can’t really be joyful. He cited his European Goethe tutor who described plants in slightly different way. To him plants expressed sadness in their growth. I conjure from here that bread can express joy. Plants express outwardly what we feel inwardly. They may express sadness in the way they grow, but are not feeling sad. Bread maybe expressing sadness from the way its been made or the grain grown, but is not sad.
Wed 17th September
The traditional science side of the project had always worried me. I had consistently assumed that I needed to have stats, data and then some findings in this project to make it legitimate. I desperately wanted these to come from the deterioration of flour over a short period of time. I imagined that vitamins in flour, E, B1, B2 would oxidize and change. That’s what I pitched to my tutor at Plymouth. I had been encouraged by my research into the matter. Whitley (2014) was encouraging and feels that understanding nutrients in flour and how they change is vital to changing the grain industry. Spiller (2014) also feels that flour changes are important to understand. I was pointed to the literature to review my question and come up with the answer rather than rely on the lab. I had hoped my trip to Plymouth would inspiration, instead it opened up a different inquiry, a very personal enquiry linked to my past, but seen from a totally new angle. As the door of scientific enquiry slammed shut the door of mystic, sentient and animalism sprung open. I felt my tutors friend as a snake with a quivering forked tongue, with eyes that seamed drunk and unable to focus on me, but only on the face of the tutor. It was as if his presence was goading me to react, testing my intelligence, daring me to move so he could strike. This creature I speak of seamed to have bought with him to the meeting a sense of other occurrences, of other experiences that had altered his view of the situation. These may be near or long ago experiences, but at this point they were injecting a negative energy into the room and confusing the purpose of this meeting. These unnerved me, and in turn transported immediately back to my days in advertising where ego’s and opinions fought in corridors and meeting rooms for precious space to display and show off.
I felt myself opening up to new experiences. If I could use this negativity to open up my spirituality and come to think of this in another realm then it would of bean very worthwhile. If I can’t then it just becomes a bad experience that will coagulate my negativity and sink it into my soul. I need to focus on the flour storage review for a few days. I still feel its of value to run bread taste tests as I want to know if I can grow wheat, and make bread from it that is tasty and bakes well. In later years I will test flour and bread for vitamin deterioration.
Thursday 18th September
“Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities.” Abrams (1996).
The mist could be seen from our living room window rolling across the distant moors. It too could be felt in our souls, Helen and I fought to express ourselves and our desire to be hugged, whispered too, held and reassured. The time when we have to leave Devon and head back to London is rapidly approaching, forcing us away from Nature, friends, and the comfort those connections have furnished us with. This is causing us to lose sight of the beauty all around us, within us, to forget our place in this world, and cosmos and to focus in on the things that are causing our own bodies and minds to recoil, react, and release.
I am desperate to teach myself and my family to feel in different ways as David Abram is doing,
“I had rarely before paid much attention to the natural world. But my exposure to traditional magicians and seers was shifting my senses; I became increasingly susceptible to the solicitations of nonhuman things”
This quote is from a part in the book where Abram (1996) is starting to see that he is part of an enlivened animate world. Teaching yourself to be different, to think and feel differently is a lifetimes task. Imbuing everything – every task, every expression, every feeling, every look, every word, every thing – with a different sense, as David begins to do in Spell of the Sensuous, is a task that needs to be retaught everyday, until it becomes habit. For me its not habitual as of now. I hope that returning to London doesn’t wreck my journey to habitual phenomenology I am determined not get caught up in my own reflection glaring back at me from man made technologies, and to learn to further heighten my senses to enable the more-than-human matrix to cover my body and sink into my soul.
As your mind opens and releases the spirit that resides inside your body the occasions when new paths open up in front of you are often after challenges, moments of emotion or meetings that confuse and bristle you. Yesterdays meeting at Plymouth university is such an occasion. After this meeting I felt my senses open up, I was able to express the person in this meeting as a ‘creature’ as a visitation from my past. I had never done this before. This path is now open to me. My senses are re-emerging from a 30 year (I’ll allow ten years of childhood as times when my sense were unsuppressed) suppression that I am immensely joyous about.
The next stage for me is being able to echo them in my writing. To learn to write as I feel, which is no to mean a task for a dyslexic, badly educated man, from the wrong side of the tracks.
Further musing on yesterdays meeting at Plymouth:
The meeting was small; small room; narrow discussion; short amount of time, but the questions it raises are; huge, historical, time consuming, and wide ranging. They are questions around the senses and their validation in the sciences conjoined with mathematical thinking control over the spiritual belief system. There was a clash of ideologies, as I said in the meeting, despite this person trying to refute that immediately he evidently believed it too. Clearly if you are trying to undertake an empirical study numbers are important. It is clear that samples have to be representative in order for you to generalise or extrapolate. I worked for dunnhumby, the people who designed the club card data collection system that is linked to all Tesco purchases and for Experian, both gather 1000’s of pieces of data everyday so I know about robust data sets. Empirical science seams to me to be relying on quizzically small numbers to provide its findings, of course these findings are more in-depth.
I’m conscious I have talked many times about opening my body about feeling things, about its importance in understanding the world around us. Every time I write about it it’s like I have never written about it before. This is not because I like repetition, far from it, I like concise and direct, but the process of sensitizing your body is like a cork screw where one turn is an opening experience and the next a closing. I find it impossible to keep turning the screw in the same direction, maybe that will come later. I feel the need to be in the open, to experience Nature again.
Friday 19th September
I needed to spend some time in Natures so I maid my way up to the woods on this bright warm morning. I paused on the way to spend some time with the flying sprites, as they dive bombed in and out of the nest, swaying and swinging past one another jetting back to the nest with their quarry or zipping out to forage, just like I had done only two days ago. Instead all I could see were large numbers of hovering bodies around the front of the nest. Hesitant to go in, drunk they maneuvered around in a bizarre late night 3D barn dance. Some of them zipped off towards the clouds, but without the same vigor and purpose they had the previous day. They had somehow lost their desire and determination. That which once drove them was now gone. There was a collective conscious hesitancy, like they were expressing group sorrow.
Apparently the nest had been killed. A fellow human was highly allergic to their sting so they ‘had’ to go. This explained their hesitancy, expression of sorrow, lack of desire and direction. A quick search online leaves little doubt that these creatures are angry beasts to be scared of. There is talk of multiple stings from lone brutes and angry gangs of drunken marauders with nothing else to do but fly around stinging all and sundry.
Wasp nests are beautiful constructions of fierce strength and fairy-like weight. Wasps are enigmatic, gracious and beautiful creatures that have developed, as we all have, in conjunction with everything else created out of the big bang 4.5 billions years ago. Anthropocentric thinking, as illustrated with the killing of the wasp nest, does little to conjure up thoughts of deeper more delightful development to come. This occurrence is a small example of the bigger devastation happening at the hands of humans to all our living beings on this planet. As I sutured away from the nest I felt frustration, made more poignant as I had expected all creatures to be cherished in this ‘deep ecological’ college.
Testing the grain in a commercial lab.
I had been advised at the Plymouth meeting that I should try getting a commercial lab to test the grain. I decided to look deeper into Abram (1996) and Craig Holdrege, who I interviewed and chatted with. I found the flowing thoughts to guide me. Traditional Cartesian science is viewed as the only way to ‘objectively’ observe an occurrence. This ‘objectivity’ has many rules, many facades and many theatrical elements essential to its performance. In order to be part of the performance you have to be become a set designer. What ever you construct can’t be spontaneous or a consequence of the ever-unfolding events in the world, but a carefully predetermined preconceived mathematical design. Our body’s experiences that submerge us into a world of colour and movement are not random unquantifiable fleeting moments, but more sensuous integral moments of understanding that take equal amounts of fine-tuning as the “objective” sciences. Abram (1996) calls these moments intersubjectivity, a joining of all the subjective moments into a moment of bodily clarity.
I learned from my visit to Plymouth and my discussions with other scientists that studying one type of grain with no variables wasn’t considered comparable or objective enough and therefore was not worth money, time or effort in researching.
Saturday 20th September
I still plan on going through with bread tests and finding out whether people can participate in perceiving the bread differences. It feels like an exciting end to the project for me.
I milled some flour and paid the flying warriors a visit. I expected to see no activity at all. I expected to feel grief. Instead I felt anger and disbelief emanating from my own body and mind, but also from the numerous abandoned flyers in the wake. Uneasiness shifted my senses and moved my body, I felt wholly unwelcome and in danger. The nervousness came from a collective anger from all of our bodies. I tiptoed away, being mindful of incoming swoopers.
Sunday 21st September
I milled the first of the flour to be used for the bread making next Saturday. I milled 1.5kg at 10am to a medium setting. I will use a fine sieve before Vorrey – the bread maker at college – makes the bread on Saturday thru Sunday, to refine the flour (I didn’t do this in the end as Vorrey thought it might take the wheat germ and bran out). I am adept at noticing the various different types of seed now, but am still unable to tell what each and everyone is. The majority is April Bearded, with Emmer, which is flatter and pointier and has a husk. There are some black oats they are pointier still, and dark brown tapering to lighter brown near one pointy end. The other types are subtler in their differences and I am not fully immersed in their being so need to spend some time fully understanding them and therefore their nuances.
The seed I have grown has given me some great experiences and now I am crushing it into tiny particles breaking its structure and turning it into something different. Never will it be able to become itself again or become something else within itself as it would of done had I renewed its relationship with the soil. It will now be fresh flour, for a while.
Monday 22nd September
The flying sprites were given another douse of pesticide today – They are now all dead. Thanks who ever sanctioned the killing! “Long live the human race.”
Blind taste tests:
I ran the first part of three tests today as a precursor to the baking day on Sunday. I picked various garden things and then we tasted. Dandelion, Runner bean, Fuchsia fruit, Sedum leaf and then we smelt and tasted grain, fresh flour and soughdough starter. I coached the three participants on touching, feeling and bodily expression. I read out the first page of ‘grapes of wroth’ and asked them to think about expression and articulation.
Feedback: Gilam – loved tasting without sight. Not relying on vision somehow built the sensitivity of their other feelings. Their taste was heightened and their differentiation of taste and texture was improved. The graduation of tastes from subtle – sedum leaf, runner bean, fuchsia fruit to sourdough starter and Kampot Pepper worked very well and improved taste.
Janey – loved opening her senses up to something new.
Nick – To be able to think about what you are eating as you eat it, and not decide the moment you see it, gives you more time and delves deeper into your mind.
Tuesday 23rd September
I have decided that the bread and flour experiment will be a straight two-way fight. Sourdough bread made from fresh flour and from older, at least two months old, shop bought.
Hypothesis: Older flour will exude less pleasing qualities to the body than fresh flour.
The balance of our lives needs tipping in the bodies favour, the dichotomy is that in order to express the body the mind must be engaged. For this to happen there must be a delicate dance between the articulate and the sensuous parts of the body and mind. Abrams (1996) writes about Merleau-Ponty who rejects the transcendental ego of Huuserl’s version of phenomenology in favour of a more vibrant body ‘it is the body alone that enables me to enter into relations with other presences’. To him without his eyes, ears and voice he would have no experiences of sight, taste and touch. The world without the body is without the possibilities of experience. The whole living body is the embodiment of life’s experiences, of contact with oneself and with others. This is a very different body form the wall charts of science classes where the systems of the body are functional and separable.
The vessel I knew was a fleeting charlatan, revealing flinches of tingling delight quickly subdued by years of suppressive thoughts and controlling externalities. A friend of mine described his bodily experience as follows “I stepped through a waterfall, of bright light meshing with deep blue water, into a world of infinite bird song. Where I could feel the plants communicating and the trees chattering. At once I realized that everything was connected in a world not normally open to us, in this world I felt totally at peace”. This experience seams aligned with what contemporary scientists call “synesthesia” –the overlapping of the senses-they speak about it as though it were rare (Abram, 1996) Considering this, reading David Abrams and speaking to Craig Holdrege its clear that our separation, our anthropocentric thinking and of our bodily sentient and sensible is a clearly a delusion created by us to bolster our ego and break apart our senses into neat little packages that can be better understood. What we should actually be doing is abandoning our anthropocentrism for holism combined with a reality that this is actually the rule, and that our unawareness is a product of the teachings of modern science.
Wed 24th September
The mindful life of the body
The fifth cycle of research and action
The body is a membrane open to the complexities of the creatures, the biology, the molecules and the spirits around it (Abrams, 1996). That’s not to say that the body lacks its own dimension or its own structure and presence, but to acknowledge that it is an absorptive and expressive frame that can glance, grab, ponder and as it is doing now articulate in writings its very presence and being. As “I” write and ponder over the words of David Abrams as he intern befits Merleau-Ponty the same accolade we think about the bodies power to run and look and then to glance elsewhere, its ability to cry, and laugh, to hear the cackle of magpies chatting, to feel the presence of sprawling trees, to walk upon this sacred earth, to tread upon the cosmos below our feet, to imbibe the swirling air. To quote David Abrams,
“Yet ” I ” do not deploy these powers like a commander piloting a ship,
for I am, in my depths, indistinguishable from them, as mv sadness is indistinguishable from a certain heaviness of my bodily limbs, or as my delight is only artificially separable from the widening of my eyes, from the bounce in my step and the heightened sensitivity of my skin.”
Indeed there are numerous occasions of laughter, of smiles, of gestures, of crossed arms, of squeals and of sighs that come to incarnate feelings spontaneously without even the slightest flickering of the conscious subjective character. Abram (1996) rightly asks how can these occasions be “immaterial” as so documented by the “science” fraternity.
The second sensuous test:
The skin is an emitting membrane, of liquids, of minerals and of bodily miscreants. It protects and holds us. We rarely let it guide our understanding of appearance, which is what I would like to encourage in the test today. In preparation for the next warming of peoples senses, including my own, I have picked, again, parts of plants, but this time they are textured – spikey, cold, hard, soft. Expressing themselves as fierce and protective, energized and silent. I would love people to be able to express touch – of their skin – in dramatic and eloquent ways. I don’t want ‘soft’ I want ‘forgiving’ I seek “strident” not “sharp”.
The first object we experienced was the soft and warm, ephemeral, purposeful seed carriers of a wind current rider. After we had experienced them we passed them into their windy domain and they rode the invisible lines and merged gentle with the sky. The next object was soft and aromatic, easy to stroke, oily. Janey and I talked about the aromas and the oils being picked up by the air and carried to our senses and how this is mirrored the world over in endless unimaginable ways. Both of these materials are soft and inviting, good enough to sleep on and within, comforting and forgiving. We then moved to harsher objects, the first one emits both harshness and comfort. The outside is protective, hard, harsh, defensive. The inside is soft, curved, smooth. This expresses comfort and austerity at the same time. Following this we felt the total expression of protection, of defense and sturdiness. The item was still light, it could be moved around by a strong gust of wind. The last item was hard, cold, very smooth, with a part of it that is softer. Again this felt protective, but also full of life and energy.
Janey loved the experience of being able to rely on your body as a means of discerning your environment. From this we both learnt that we rely too much on our sight as a means of awareness and engage our brain too often and too early in experiences, shutting out our bodies story.
Thursday 26th of September – eating a meal blindfolded
In Henry Bortofts words I wanted to “take the ground from under students feet – or at least begin to – whilst at the same time giving them the sense of being where they have always been”.
Five enthusiastic, but untethered cooks assembled in the kitchen to prepare and assemble the night’s sensuous meal. The idea was that students would eat blindfolded. I wanted to see if they could do what Henry Bortoft advocates “catch something as it is happening:” “shifting the focus of attention within experience away from what is experienced into the experience of it”. Within the meal this meant that they had to step back from feeling, tasting or smelling into what was being felt, tasted or smelt, this isn’t an attempt to describe the object, but the experience or appearance of the phenomena of meeting that object with your whole body.
Fernanda guided the five of us with her astute and tasteful menu:
Quinoa + Pomegranate
Cauliflower pakora with cumin and coriander
Filo pastry stuffed with braised onion, pine nuts and chard
Cubes of vegetables
Warm figs stuffed with blue cheese
Warm figs stuffed with stem ginger
The kitchen was filled with voices, laughter and cry’s for instruction. We all had a vague idea of the menus and the roles we were playing but needed support. Still, the menu came together over a couple of hours. The experience of kinship and camaraderie imbued the food with a generosity of life and a passion for being. Once cooked or prepared, we positioned each part of the menu on 50 plates and placed them on the tables in front of a chair for each person to sit on. The diners waited outside the dining room to be led in blindfolded by one of the cooks. We carefully guided people to their seats and sat them down, talking them through where their plate were in the process.
Participant 1. “this feels really weird being blindfolded”
Once the whole table was seated we offered to pour water to those who required it. Once all were seated I read a passage from David Abrams book “spell of the sensuous” (1996):
“For Merleau-Ponty. All of the creativity and free-ranging mobility that we have come to associate with the human intellect is, in truth an elaboration, or recapitalization, of a profound creativity already underway at the most immediate level of the sensory perception. The sensing body is not a programmed machine but an active and open form, continually improving its relation to things and to the world. The body’s actions and engagements are never wholly determinate, since they must ceaselessly adjust themselves to a world and a terrain that is itself continually shifting. If the body were truly a set of closed predetermined mechanisms, it could never perceive anything really new, could never be startled or surprised” so please lets be surprised, I added.
I recorded various participants – they had been asked about this prior to taking part, anyone who didn’t want to take part was provided with a meal in another area – and then used this data alongside my thoughts to develop an understanding of what occurred, which is written below..
Hands moved tentatively towards where they thought their plates were. The moving fingers were reminiscent of delicate harp or tiny piano playing. Above the chatter, which filled the room right up to and thru the 40 foot high ceiling into the autumn sky above, there could be heard exhales of breath and high pitched tones as people felt their food.
- Not something you hear at mealtimes normally.
The feel of skin on the food was his or her first phenomena, only one diner commented on this even though It was evident in their facial expressions and tittering’s that they were feeling delight at the experience. This person talked about the clarity and the sensuous feeling the food had on their hands. I could see they buried their sensuous thoughts within the quinoa as they pushed it around with their fingertips.
Most people just used their hands as dexterous implements to pick up the food and deliver auto-piloted messages to the brain about, size, shape and texture. Then using their noses to discern a little more information about the object. From this I discerned that touch was not always enough for those people to recognize what the items were and that this process seamed to be their overriding aim.
Participant 2: “I reckon I have tomato stuffed with some type of cheese”
Participant 3: “that cheese is gorgeous”
Participant 2: “garlicy, cheesy, herby stuff, stuffed inside a baby tomatoes”
Participant 4: “theres some kind of samosa thing”
Participant 5: “The tomatoes were amazing, I think I ate them too fast to discern what was in them. Garlic, creamy cheese thing”
I encouraged participants in a Geothean way to engage in ‘active thinking’ and describe the object they felt in actual terms, hard, sharp, squidgy etc as an exercise in slowing down their discovery, but it was difficult to stop participants minds flowing downstream. Using downstream words that connected them to the object they had felt and smelt, “beetroot”, “carrot”, “celery” made the whole experience recognizable and some how safe. Although several times participants, in their quest to guess, found it hard to pinpoint or made the wrong name choice. Tofu was mistaken as mushroom. “its mushroom ….” Said one participant. Here both smell and touch were misleading each other. “yeah its mushroom” commented another. The mushroom episode spelt out another issue that I must be aware of in the final tests, that of group intelligence. Once one strong person in the group had identified a taste it was agreed by the others, which could be an indication of social control of just a matter of lazy tasting.
People also found identifying mixed ingredients harder, their senses suddenly expressed naivety. I wondered if they stepped back into what Goethe deemed the first stage of sensing, ‘active seeing’ would they be able to describe what they were experiencing? I encouraged them to think about narrowing their language to words like soft, hard, cold, warm, bitter, salty. I then encouraged people to think about their feelings and to use words that were not food based.
Participant 1: “Its like kissing a beautiful woman”
I wanted to immerse in the experience with them and therefore understand the food more wholly. I felt drawn to two participants because of their bodily expressions. I spent time absorbing them as they fully occupied, immersed and readily expressed themselves. The majority of their language was animalistic and made of movement, sound and expression. I asked one of them to try and articulate how they felt, at which they laughed, smiled and bent their shoulders forward toward their hands that held the food. They sniffed the items as their hands maneuvered them into place. Their lips pursed as they drew the items closer. It felt as if they were swimming in the smells and kissing the textures. The other participants face had blossomed with colour, they had moved from the first course to the next food items. Tittering and pursing of lips as their hands gently squeezed. Their face turned from a musky pink to a warm red. Their body stiffened and radiated a feeling of pleasure, even maybe, sexuality. This person was clearly ‘feeling’ the food with their whole body. It was great to see the expression of what Merleau-Ponty, as described by Abram (1996), as the “experience”, where the senses cannot be separated. The overall feeling in the room was one of amazement.
Saturday 27th September
The sixth cycle of research and action
Authenticity of food is something we should all be striving for, given that we now have the opposite. 80% to 90% of bread made in the UK is made industrially in the Chorleywood process. This is a culmination of a process that started in the 1880’s with the invention of the roller mill, which removed the wheat germ and bran from bread. As we have discussed, these are the nutritional parts, and bread requires fortification post this process to make it nutritional.
Bread forms a major part of all our diets. We consume 9m loaves a day or 250 grams per person per day (Cambell, 1991) and bake 11m a day according to Whitely (2014). In its unrefined state this could supply 800 calories and 30 grams of protein per person were it evenly distributed worldwide (Davis, 1981). Yet most people are unaware of the nutritional value of sourdough bread and wheat, it contains essential Amino acids, minerals, Iron, Zinc, Vitamins E, B1, B2 and phytochemicals (Shewry, 2009).
The vast majority of bread in the UK – which is Europe’s 3rd largest producer – is still part of an intensive industrialised cultivation industry. According to the UK’s baking federation bread is a £3.6 billion industry, 80% produced in bread factories (76% is white, 28% of it pre-sliced), with a further 17% baked in in-store bakeries. This is despite growing public consciousness around nutrition Sharpe et al (2013) and the obvious growing unhealthiness of our nation. There was a marked increase in the proportion of adults that were obese between 1993 and 2012 from 13.2 per cent to 24.4 per cent among men and from 16.4 per cent to 25.1 per cent among women (HSCIC, 2014).
According to shewry (2009)
In the industrial system “there is considerable vertical integration between millers, ingredient suppliers and bakers. Coexisting with this dominant chain is a comparatively small ‘craft’ chain”, characterized by smaller production units, less mechanized and more time-consuming manufacturing methods, and less use of inputs or additives. However there is trade (e.g. in ingredients and services) between the two chains.”
Clearly our baking industry in the UK is in an unhealthy industrialised position, but this seams to be changing, 36 out of 47 bakers questions inaugurated after 2009 – see chart 1 – from their other answers on size, reason for baking and how they see their work I would say they are defiantly craft bakers.
Chart 1 – Survey of 47 bakers listed through Twitter and surveyed through survey monkey, 2014. The question “when did you start your bakery”.
Consumers’ growing interest in speciality bread and baked goods is an encouraging sign for the market and offers opportunities (Mintel, 2013). A promising sign for the market, only two in five users see price as a consideration when buying bread and over half of bread and baked goods users consider high quality bread (eg freshly baked, no added chemicals) worth paying more for (Mintel, 2013). Great news for craft bakeries as they align with consumers needs here. Supermarkets attempts to grab some of this growing market has been clumsy, creating in-store “tanning salons for bread” (Whitely, 2014) and specialty breads labeled as ‘sourdough’ or ‘heritage grain’ without having been near a sourdough process or being made with heritage grain. Consumers will see through this, which is great news for craft bakers, and this is bolstered by my online survey where 100% of the 53 bakers surveyed said they were either expanding sales or had reached their desired capacity.
What is still apparent, from the interviews I conducted and the questions I asked on twitter and on email, to farmers, bakers, millers and retailers, is that the craft baking industry is emulating the ensconced industrial system in the way it is forming partnerships that thrive on scale and focus of economic efficiencies. My survey has proved that this is also changing and the Mintel (2012) data confirms there is a market for such changes to be encouraged and develop.
Chart ? Flour purchases from bakers in the UK contacted through twitter in, 2014.
Out of the 65 bakers that replied over 50% of them bought from local suppliers and only 20% of sales were through supermarkets. Five bakers had direct relationships with growers, John Letts and Gilchesters. I investigated this area further in interviews:
John James, professor at the Royal agricultural college and arable farmer. He said he would “love to have a direct relationship with bakers in south Devon”. His main issue was that he had a system that was working economically for him part of this was to have a grain dealer pay him per acre and then to deal with all the logistics. Transportation was his big worry; “the costs could spiral if the journeys are increased.”
Alan Baylis, whose grandfather was the first farmer in the UK to use synthetic chemicals to enhance arable yields. In the 1920’s he worked with Rothampsted research to establish a protocol for best use. This enabled him to double his yields per acre and, in the great depression to buy up swaths of land from struggling farmers and establish modern arable farming as we know it today. Alan told me that his farm was part of a 2k acre site that was again part of the global commodity trade in grain. His farm had no connection to millers or bakers.
The Welsh grain forum and Scotland the Bread are breaking new territory and building links between farmers, millers, bakers and communities. This is the model I like the most as it builds a model that is participatory, co-operative and resilient.
Of course there is John Letts, who has managed to do everything himself, but even he has tenuous links to bakers and struggles with inconsistency of demand.
So it certainly seams that although changing, with more mills and bakeries opening, that there is still an issue with the supply and authenticity of grain and flour. I say ‘issue’ as I believe that flour is better fresh, and this cannot be done by consolidation of supply chains, in-fact the opposite is true. I also believe that farmers, millers, bakers and consumers need to form localized networks, as the Welsh grain forum and Scotland the bread are trying to do, in order to build social cohesion, transparency and develop authenticity. This process as I see it starts with the individual, I have proved that it is possible for all of us to be our own grain supply network and that this has nutritional (the literature shows this) and social benefits (that I don’t have time to discuss here). But, can this grain make flour that makes bread that is enjoyable to eat?
To answer this question I ran some tests on four loaves made from two different types of flour and two different sourdough starters. The next few pages will illustrate how we made these loaves. Post the making I will go on to describe how the test, a development of the sensuous tests already run, were designed and finish by delving into the data to disclose some fascinating findings.
How Vorrey and I made sourdough loaves.
Why sourdough? Sourdough is a bread product made by a long fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeasts (Wikipedia, 2014). During the sourdough process the natural occurring amylase enzymes that exist on and around the grain (Whitley, 2014) react with added water and begin to release carbon dioxide, whilst absorbing oxygen. With sufficient time, temperature, and refreshments with new or fresh dough, the mixture develops a balanced, symbiotic or stable culture. This process is in complete contrast to how the majority of bread in the UK is made and imbues further authenticity into the process.
The start of any sourdough recipe begins with the breading of a ‘starter’. This process takes a few minutes each day over a period of four to seven days. The important thing here is to look after it, refresh it and feed it. For this research we have made two types of starter using exactly the same recipe under the same conditions.
- Fresh starter – Fresh milled grain starter. Grain milled directly into water
- Old starter – Shop bought flour added to water
Day 1 to day three
40g of flour
Figure ? – Old starter photo (2014) made from white shop bought flour and some mixed flours of other types
Fresh milling of grain
I milled with a kitchen top mill, see figure ?. It’s a popular brand in Germany and mills to a fine flour. I milled all the heritage grain for the loaves at the same time and then mixed it thoroughly to ensure an even spread of husk.
Figure ? Kitchen top mill, 2014. Researchers own photo.
Figure ?. Kitchen top mill (2014) milling grain to flour. Researchers own photo.
Figure ? milling machine, (2014), weighing the grain for milling. Researchers own photo.
I’m writing this in the kitchen as It feels appropriate, fresh and honest doing so. Between 11:30am and 1:08pm Vorrey and I worked on the logistics of tomorrow, which is baking day, and made a test loaf.
The test loaf was designed to run through the recipe and adjust as needed, no flour or environment is the same so adjustments are always needed. We started with this recipe, but by the time we baked the four loaves this had altered slightly, as you will note.
- Test loaf: Fresh starter – Pure immediate milled bread mixture. That is; mill 2000g of grain directly into the starter, add 1500g of water and then 2 Tbs of salt.
Mix thoroughly and leave to rise somewhere warm – our cupboard is 250c – until double its original size.
Once doubled in size. Vorrey suppressed the test mix and kneaded it for 5 minutes in the bowl. She said “it feels very light”. The structure was most surprising, of the like I had never witnessed. It was full of clearly visible stringy connections that formed a structured not unlike you’d find in molecule. It felt light and spongy and a little sticky, but came away easy from your fingers. if she pushed one side, the other billowed. It made for pleasing viewing. The colours were a mix of creams and whites, burnt browns, umbers, sienna’s with flecks of white, all making for rather pleasant variation. We both hoped it would be light and tasty in the final bread.
The results were pleasing, firstly because it was the culmination of a seven month effort, as documented here, and secondly because I had proved all the people that say UK wheat is NO good for bread making incorrect.
I have just mixed the leavens for tomorrow and thought I’d let you know the differences I felt and recognized when mixing.
White flour mix with old starter. Bright, cloying, stretchy, empty, shallow.
Fresh flour mix with fresh flour starter. Hair net, varied, cushioned, interesting, potential.
Tomorrow will be a big test and full of interesting results.
Sunday 28th September
The bread Appearing
10am, I removed the pure freshly milled wheat starter from the airing cupboard (25oc) and bought it into the kitchen (20oc) and measured out two 750g portions.
- 750g fresh milled flour starter, 1000g of freshly milled flour (milled from heritage grain straight in the starter), 560g of water (adjusted down as it felt wet enough at this point), 1 tbs + ½ teaspoon salt
- 750g fresh milled flour starter, 1000g of white shop bought flour, 560g of water (adjusted down as it felt wet enough at this point), 1 tbs + ½ teaspoon salt.11am, I removed the pure shop bought white starter from the airing cupboard (25oc) and bought it into the kitchen (20oc) and measured out two 750g portions.
- 750g white shop bought flour starter, 1000g of freshly milled flour (milled from heritage grain straight in the starter), 560g of water (adjusted down as it felt wet enough at this point), 1 tbs + ½ teaspoon salt
- 750g white shop bought flour starter, 1000g of white shop bought flour, 560g of water (adjusted down as it felt wet enough at this point), 1 tbs + ½ teaspoon salt
Mixes A and B went into the airing cupboard (24oc) at 11am. Mixes C and D went in the same cupboard at 11:55am. They will be left there until 3pm and 3:30pm respectively. At this point they should of doubled in size as the natural yeasts multiply and release carbon dioxide and the bubbles are trapped and fill the mixture with lightness. At 3pm and 3:30pm we punched down the mix and kneaded it for five minutes, then put it back in the airing cupboard. At 5pm I put two Le Crueset pots in the oven at 260oc to heat up for 30 minutes. At 5:35pm I lifted the mixture into the pots in the greaseproof paper, and put it all in the oven. At 6pm I will remove the lids and bake for another 15 minutes.
Baking the bread is a culmination of seven months work. The process has been the most involved development of my life. The biggest lesson I have to convey is in two parts:
- People bring to conversations and meetings a plethora of experiences and it takes all your consciousness to absorb those assemblies without altering your neurobiology
- Physicality of doing imbues your whole and permeates then ingrains inside your soul.
Being mindful of your existence and of other beings underpins this whole study and is emitted by the bread, more wholly in the heritage grain freshly milled bread than in the mixes or the pure line shop bought bread. It will be fascinating to see how people express themselves towards the different breads and how this aligns with the full expression of my seven-month project.
Wednesday 1st October
Free choice profiling – light – an introduction
The point of making the bread wasn’t simply to let people eat good bread, although that’s a great thing to do, but was to compare the differences between fresh flour and old flour, bought two months ago from a shop. This is the flour most of us would use to bake, and with craft bakers not really grasping the effects on flour of prolonged storage that would I presume be using old flour too. From this inquiry I felt that contrasting the two flours and asking people to absorb them using phenomenological teachings as a guide was unique and exciting. I was drawn though to try and give the test some statistical robustness, possibly an over hang from my Cartesian teachings.
I am happy with people describing the bread in anyway they want but wanted to be able to gather data and compare the four breads and the sixteen participants. In order to do this I felt I needed some stats. I needed to turn the words into numbers with something like free choice profilling. Further to use a something like Generalized Procrustes analysis or Pearson correlation to garner some association across results. Full free choice profiling and Generalized Procrustes analysis was beyond this study and I felt that I needed to down scale my ambitions.
Free-choice profiling is a method for determining the quality of a thing by having a large number of subjects experience (view, taste, read, etc.) it and then allowing them to describe the thing in their own words, as opposed to posing them a set of “yes-no-maybe” questions. All of the descriptions are then analyzed to determine a “consensus configuration” of qualities, usually through Generalized Procrustes analysis (GPA) or Multiple factor analysis (MFA) Wikipedia (2014).
My solution was to deviate from Free choice profiling and take the 15 most popular words – see figure ? – that participants used to describe the bread the first time around and then the second time around ask people to rate them by marking on a 20cm line, there are issues with the value and the weight that each person puts on those words as a consequence of this, I designed the questionnaire knowing this could be a problem and will align my results with this in mind too. There is also a question of cultural differences and understanding of words, i.e. Tangy. I was asked to explain the meaning of this several times, this may skew some results, and make interpretations interesting.
As well as comparing individual terms scores, looking at averages, I will also be using the Pearson correlation analysis tool to help analyse relationships between the word scores. This type of analysis reveals the correlation between two variables as a number between 1 and 0. The closer to 1 the variables are the tighter the correlation. I will detail the results later in the dissertation.
Friday 3rd October
The writings of Abram and his musings on past masters of phenomenology have awakened my awareness of the natural world around me, but spending time writing about it ironically separates me from it and surrounds me with technology and my own reflection. I want to write about the feelings I have in Nature and express my bodies voyage into the cold mists of the autumn as they settle gently besides the sunlight on the hills of Totnes.
Instead I get into my van and journey to college. On the journey to college I absorb the sounds of Aphex Twin – if you haven’t listened to his music you should – and this made me realize that what I was experiencing with touching and taste could never be separated from the other senses. Cognitive sentient and embodiment sensible are whole experiences that rely on each other to expose entirely the appearance. Even if one of your senses is blocked this doesn’t affect your ‘feeling’ as it is your whole body that absorbs the moment. The music made me think of the times in the field listening to the birds and the trees, and that what I had made in the bread encompassed all this and more. So on the other side, does industrially grown wheat imbue the sounds of tractors and the smell of diesel? It also made me realize again that all senses are connected and that food along with taste is equally the realm of sound. Is this what Bortoft calls genuine wholeness?
I had decided long ago that people at the college would be the ideal participants for the bread tests, semi-coached during the blind meal, the touch tests and the blind tastings, they have also spend a couple of weeks reading Henri Bortoft and Craig Holdrege so they should be fully equipped to express themselves.
Bread tasting tests & results (qualitative)
Stage 1. Four breads were laid out on chopping boards and labeled, A, B, C, D – see figures ? to ?. Each participant was asked to fill in a sheet with blocks labeled A, B, C, D using words and descriptions they felt were appropriate for each loaf.
Stage 2. These descriptions were then analysed and single words taken from them. The top 15 words, see figure ?, were then categorised; taste, smell, texture, colour and character. There were 349 total words used to describe the bread, 18.4 words person and 4.6 words per loaf. The spread of words obviously leaned towards taste, but there is a spread across other senses, culminating interestingly in the whole, described here as ‘character’.
Figure ? The fifteen most popular words apportioned into groups.
Stage 3. On a piece of A4 paper I wrote out the words. Each word was written above a 20cm line, one end being negative and the other positive. The piece of paper with the collective words on was then given back to the participants and they were asked to mark on each line where they thought most appropriate for that bread. Words they didn’t understand were explained, the difference between negative and positive was discussed.
Stage 4. I analysed the marks by measuring them on the 20cm line and marking down the appropriate number. See appendix ? I used Pearson correlation, as well as other statistical comparisons, to analyse associations and extract some findings.
Initial findings of interest to have noted from the tests:
- There were a number of terms used that you would normally find in wine or beer tastings; oaty, fresh, vibrant, ale, beer, well balanced, smoky. This points to a discerned emerging personality of all the breads and a connection between sourdough breads and deeper tastes. This also points to the possibility of grain and bread having a terrior (Constantini, 2012) and noted by my great friend Juan Pelizzatti
- Character is an interesting whole experience expression. It imbues a rounded personality into the bread, or the bread imbues its personality in the participant. As Abrams (1996) discusses, its not clear where the perception starts, is it with the perceived or the perceiver? The bread will have that character long before it is perceived by the participant, but until it is defined and articulated does it exist
- Leading on from character it is fascinating to see that breads can have such a different effect on each participant. As Abrams discusses “in so far as my hand knows hardness and softness, and my gaze knows the moon light, it is a certain way of linking up with the phenomenon and communicating with it. Hardness and softness, moonlight and sunlight, presents themselves in our recollection not pre-eminently as sensory contents but as certain kinds of symbiosis, certain ways the outside has of invading us the certain ways we have of meeting this invasion…”
These perpetual liaisons that the body leads at one moment is exchanged with the being or thing the next. The body in one enchanting moment suggests the preconceptual relation to the sensible things that surround it (Abram, 1996). The sentient and sensible are comparable with those of the diner in the act of dinning. I’m comparing this to the act of sleeping as described by Merleau-ponty (cited by Abram, 1996) in that I can see people, in the blind taste meal, and read about peoples comments on the bread and immediately see their transference of the sentient to sensible described in an active voice “IT feels like bread without protection whose goals is to feel good. It does not try to be fluffy and balanced in its flow.” And “I could feel the breeze that made the grain dance in the meadows.” in its interchange with the perceiver the bread suddenly come alive. In that precise moment the personal interplay between the two creates a world that is in many respects unique.
This line of thought brings to the fore the irrelevance of the statistical analysis. If everything has a relationship and these relationships are unique at that moment in time then looking for similarities might be a little futile. But then thinking about chaos theory, what little I know, then there is ultimately pattern in what first seams like randomness.
Test results of all bread types
One particular respondent:
One of the respondents described the breads, as I would have anticipated the majority to describe them, whilst also using some coherent and comprehensive language.
Bread A: Wholesome, authentic, humble, nourishing, substantial, earthy and filling. IT feels like bread without protection whose goals is to feel good. It does not try to be fluffy and balanced in its flow.
Bread B: Less authentic, than A. Not as nourishing. Slightly fictitious. It seams like is wants to seduce you so it puts on a “front”, It does not feel as honest ad nourishing as a, but has pleasurable tastes.
Bread C: Festive fun, confident, nourishing, but in a lighter way than A. afford to be a compromise between A and B. It feels like confident fun bread.
Bread D: Accommodating, compromising, trying to be a popular pleasing bread, that people want. Not as nourishing, not to be eaten as a way to be full, but as an accompaniment to spreads.
But, as you will read the tests didn’t quite follow the perceived pattern. The hypothesis that the breads made with more heritage flour and less white flour, A and C, would be experienced as more nutritional, more authentic and described in more favourable terms was not necessarily true.
Bread A and bread D were made from contrasting flours and scored a mean of 10.1 and 6.2 for “Oaty” respectively, which indicates a clear difference, as you would expect. But, when you look at the scores more closely there is a fair bit of confusion. Five people scored the white bread higher for oatyness than the wheat and husk bread D, this may point to a misunderstanding of the word Oaty.
Bread A and D were mainly scored very differently for earthiness. Their means are 15 and 8 respectively. Here six people scored this very close, which is an anomaly considering the breads were so contrasting.
Bread D was the softest of all the breads according to all but two respondents who scored it 2.9 and 3.9. The highest soft scores were 18.3 and 17.9 by contrast.
I was most surprised to see Bread D described by two respondents as dark, as you can see from the photos it was white. All I can think of to explain this is that the crust inspired them to score highly, or maybe colour operates on a different variant for them rather than on dark and light.
Earthy was a word used to describe all breads see figures ? to ?. This could be attributed to the sourdough process, or maybe to the contrast to fluffy industrial breads that are common in the UK, but also in pockets across the world. All these breads are certainly more earthy than your puffy wallpaper paste white sliced loaf, I am thankful for that.
In correlation analysis authenticity, nostalgia/ homely, honest/ confident hogged the top four places. These maybe because they could all bring forth the same meaning? Authentic and honest share the same etymology. The link between homely and honest is one of socially derived meaning.
The graphic below – figure ? – shows all the words used by all the participants describing all the breads. The size of words reflects the number of times the word was used in comparison to others. Larger words thus protrude and give you a sense of their importance to the group.
Figure ?. Graphic (2014) researchers own, showing all the words used by participants during the bread tests.
Figure ?, Bread A, 2014. Researchers own photograph. Taken on the night of the tests.
Figure ?. Graphic (2014) researchers own, showing all the words used to describe bread A by participants during the bread tests.
How bread A was made, step by step: 100% heritage grain sourdough starter and 100% heritage grain fresh flour. Nothing was taken out or sieved from the flour. I estimate from further sieving tests that 2% of the material is husk, mainly from the Emmer and Einkorn wheat berries as their husks remain on during processing, unless you have a de-huller. Consequently I would have expected the bread to taste of husk a little. I had hoped that people would be able to discern earthiness and feel a connection with the soil. Maybe even perhaps some honesty. On reflection and further inquiry I learnt that husk is indigestible for humans and that all the husk should have been removed prior to milling or sieved out (Spiller, 2014).
75% of respondents mentioned word that connected to or directly described the soil/ earth.
15% of respondents mentioned this bread as nutritional. “Wholesome, authentic, humble, nourishing”, “Full bodied… nourishing”,
Here is what people said about bread A:
Respondent 1: Wet in smell. Smelt of the glossy texture of the grain, freshness of the drop of rain on the corn in the field.
Respondent 2: Tatses like moldy wood, bitty texture, bits of straw, sour – horrible – someone has polluted my stomach.
Respondent 3: I don’t like it, maybe it’s the sourdough, but it tastes kinda mouldy, or like dirt.
Respondent 4: Very tangy, almost “bouncy” and tastes very alive, expansive and deep. Taste almost oaky a lightness and soothing sweetness; tastes like a fresh breeze getting a picture of warm embers “feels aged and wise”
Respondent 5: Its soil. Not sure about it. Earthy, slightly grainy in texture/ flavour also. Elvish bread, lovely crisp crust – great flavour to crust. Not sure I’d eat much of it.
Respondent 6: strong aroma, grassy and earthy, pleasantly fibrous,, thick crust/ most intense flavour and aroma, strongly tangy, moist and dense, nice dark colour, chewy.
Respondent 7: sour, crunchy, spongy, woodland.
Respondent 8: Touch – warm, springy/ bouncy. Smell – of the earth/ soil. Texture – love the grain. Surprise – pure? No additives. Is this bread.
Evaluation of bread A
The bread was described as woody or moldy. This would be down the husk being left in, which when made again will be sieved out. It had the most intense flavor and tasted alive and full of nutrition, for some, for others it was the opposite. It had a direct connection to the earth and some felt it enlivened their sprit and bod
Figure ?, Bread B, 2014. Researchers own photograph. Taken on the night of the tests.
Figure ?. Graphic (2014) researchers own, showing all the words used to describe bread B by participants during the bread tests.
Description of the making of bread B: 100% heritage grain sourdough starter and 100% shop bought white organic flour. I would have expected the bread to taste less of husk than A as only the starter had bran and husk in it. I had hoped people could feel and see its difference and then maybe describe it in less authentic, nutritional ways.
50% of respondents described the bread in strong emotional terms of love or in slightly less dramatic, but similar terms, of enjoyment. What is interesting is that the other 50% used terms like sensible, not nourishing, a bit like the wind, okay!, too light., which seam in contrast to the strong emotional terms.
Here is a selection of what people said about Bread B:
Respondent 1. Crust sharp on tongue, love the crunchiness, really oaty flavour, when I breath out it felt stronger.
Respondent 2 Enough perfect amount of salt, really yummy, I can feel it all down my belly, lasting lovely flavour, different components – salty, sour.
Respondent 3. Good moisture content, dense, flavour is earthy but not too strong.
Respondent 4. soft and mild and the same time slightly sour… I like the crunchy crust that make it attractive. Feels German and proper, like from your family bakery.
Respondent 5. Festive fun, confident, nourishing, but in a lighter way than A. Afford to be a compromise between A and B. It feels like a confident fun bread.
Respondent 6. Mild bread, soft, tastes more like the wind. I could feel the breeze that made the grain dance in the meadows.
Respondent 7. Less authentic, than A. Not as nourishing. Slightly fictitious. It seams like is wants to seduce you so it puts on a “front”, It does not feel as honest ad nourishing as a, but has pleasurable tastes.
Respondent 8. A’s morte demure, relative, neater, rich, not fruity, pores closer together, slimmer, less pongy than a. A more sensible bread, basically. Very slightly chewy in places.
Figure ?, Bread C, 2014. Researchers own photograph. Taken on the night of the tests.
Figure ?. Graphic (2014) researchers own, showing all the words used to describe bread C by participants during the bread tests.
Description of the making of bread C. 100% white sourdough starter and 100% heritage grain fresh flour. Nothing was taken out or sieved from the flour. I estimate from further sieving tests that 25% of the material is husk, mainly from the Emmer and Einkorn wheat berries, but also from the April bearded grain that made up the majority of the grain. The majority of the mix 800g compared to 1000g was heritage flour. I would of expected this bread to reflect that a be more like A, but a bit lighter, fresher. I would of expected people to compare to A and give it a little less earthy descriptions.
People described bread C in the following ways:
Respondent 1. Very sweet, chewy, slightly unusual taste… a little like slightly off milk
Respondent 2. It is also a little bitter, and has a deep taste that transports me to the structure of the plant. I can taste the stem and the leaves and the richness of her body.
Respondent 3 prefer toasted, good flavour. Quite dense
Respondent 4. Raw, acid, reminds me of A and calls for a dark ale, as well as avocado and eggs.
Respondent 5. spongy, very mild, talking a bit, funny because of the sour tingling on the tongue afterwards.
Respondent 6. It is also a little bitter, and has a deep taste that transports me to the structure of the plant. I can taste the stem and the leaves and the richness of her body.
Respondent 7. bland and firm
Respondent 8. Acid, cold, blocked by an iron nest. Wandering outside.
Figure ?, Bread D, 2014. Researchers own photograph. Taken on the night of the tests.
Figure ?. Graphic (2014) researchers own, showing all the words used to describe bread D by participants during the bread tests.
Description of the making of bread C. 100% white sourdough starter and 100% 100% shop bought white organic flour. I would of expected this bread to reflect its white personality, and for words that reflect its softness, springiness and also words that reflect its lack of content – no bran, husk, wheat germ.
People described bread D in the following ways:
Respondent 1. Dislike aftertaste
Respondent 2. Rubber smell on the skin and through the bread. Gluey when connected with saliva. The taste is neutral, plan, hardly taste any smell or qualities of taste. Plain, soft plain. No after taste, just funny sensation on the throat to middle part of the tongue. Stomach response; starts feeling heavy and the head starts feeling heavy.
Respondent 3 cloudy, rice, powdery.
Respondent 4. Very tangy, almost “bouncy” and tastes very alive, expansive and deep. Taste almost oaky a lightness and soothing sweetness; tastes like a fresh breeze getting a picture of warm embers “feels aged and wise”.
Respondent 5. Accommodating, compromising, trying to be a popular pleasing bread, that people want. Not as nourishing, not to be eaten as a way to be full, but as an accompaniment to spreads.
Respondent 6. Familiar flavour, its more strong and energetic. Makes me feel security.
Respondent 7. spongy, very mild, talking a bit, funny because of the sour tingling on the tongue afterwards
Respondent 8. Crunchy, tasty, more-ish, comforting – more flavour the longer its in your mouth.
The mean score of the top 6 authenticity notes of bread D is 16.91. In contrast the bottom 6 mean score is 6.21. These scores are polar opposites and confirm that respondents aligned authenticity with the bread from their homeland. Analysing authenticity with its correlation we find that the two score 0.731 which is 2nd in ranking. It means the two are strongly linked – see figure ?
Figure ?, Bread tests, 2014. Correlation of respondents markings of words Nutritious v’s Authentic.
Correlation between the respondent scores –
The most interesting point is that there is no overall consensus. Thinking about how people described the breads and hearing them talk after the tests, their opinions aligned with the bread they enjoyed when growing up. It is therefore interesting to see that there is strong association for all 16 respondents between how nostalgic they felt and how nutritional they felt the bread was (0.733). Maybe this is because they associate the bread they grew up with being with nutrition or being well feed, or maybe they just mentally nourished by eating bread that triggered memories of chaildhood.
One respondent wrote about this feeling stating about bread D. “Reminds me of the bread my mum used to buy at Restoricks bakery on pentonvile road, islington. So I am a bit nostalgic and it’s a liberating sense in some way. The crust rocks. Nostalgic heaven. And he marked the bread 18.1 (11.1 mean) for nostalgia and 13.5 (12.1 mean) for nutrition.
Bread D split people opinion. Half of respondents scored the bread very low (1 to 7) for nostalgia and the other half scored it very high (13 to 18) and this pattern applied for nutrition, hence the correlation.
Figure ?, Bread tests, 2014correlation of respondents markings of words Nutritious v’s nostalgic
Confident/ honest V’s nutritional.
Again the respondent’s background seamed to play a major role hear. The results showed that people felt nourished by bread they felt was “honest” – which again points to a history with that type of bread. As this comment from a respondent, bought up on German rye breads. Bread A: Wholesome, authentic, humble, nourishing, substantial, earthy and filling. It feels like bread without protection whose goals are to feel good. It does not try to be fluffy and balanced in its flow.
The correlation between confident/ honest and nutritional was also very close (0.731) with one notable exception where the respondent respected that just because the bread D, was less nutritional, in the British sense this certainly didn’t mean it was less confident/ honest, the opposite in-fact. This person wrote crunchy, tasty, more-ish, comforting – more flavour the longer its in your mouth, about bread D, but scored it 2.2 for nutrition. This opinion is also very interesting in that the hypothesis here is that fresh wholemeal flour and bread made from it is better for you. This maybe so, but if you are comforted by planner white breads and like your bread to be less about grain and flavor then you might not feel comforted by fresh wholemeal even though you know its more nutritional.
Figure ?, Bread tests, 2014correlation of respondents markings of words – Nutritious v’s honest
The correlation between chewy/ confident and honest was the lowest of all amongst the non opposing terms at, 0.01 – see figure ? – and indicated that the more you chewed the less honest you felt the bread was. Chewiness is derived from gluten- see figure ? – Which was more prevalent in the white flour, as expected.
Figure ?, Bread tests, 2014. Correlation of respondents markings of words – Chewy v’s confident/ honest
Figure ?. Gluten strains from the white flour used mostly in bread D. The four was washed under a warm tap for 5 minutes to reveal the gluten strands.
October 6, 2014
The rheology of bread made from purely UK Heritage wheat would stand up to any UK grain, is tasty and can be grown by pretty much anyone anywhere in the UK. Andrew Whitley and Debbie from Breadshare are growing wheat in Scotland, the Welsh grain forum are growing in Wales, John letts is growing in Oxfordshire, Andrew Forbes in Essex, Gilchesters are growing in Northumberland, and I am growing in Devon. That pretty much covers all areas. Johns Letts, Andrew Whitely, Andrew Forbes, the Welsh grain forum, and me are all growing, processing and making bread from this grain. Heritage grain according to Letts (2014) and Shewry (2009) has different genome that makes it more digestible than modern grain, doesn’t require harmful synthetic inputs, and tastes nutritious, healthy, connects people to the land, and brings authenticity to-life.
The grain industry in the UK is in a dyer state and only really serves the manifesto of the grain traders, chemical companies, and other neo-liberal institutions. Its in a dyer state because as Shewry (2009) argues the industry is convened into few pure-for-profit networks that do not serve the purpose they were surely meant to deliver on – sustainably feeding the world.
Personally what I have experienced in the last eight months is an exchange of cognitive and embodied experiences that has opened up a whole new world of “phantasmagoria” (Abram, 1996). I have documented a few of them in this dissertation; heritage seed gathering and how complex it is in the UK; land preparation and how involved this is, harvesting and what a pleasure that is, processing and how demoralizing that can be and finally how invigorating and affiliating baking can be. The bits I have missed out or only lightly brushed on but are equally important; heritage wheat and why it has failed to get a tight grip on the consumers consciousness; supply chains and how shortening them affects those involved; how exactly does fresh flour deteriorate in the first week post milling; can we avoid the rise of artisan bakeries falling into the same trap of pure-for-profit industry that currently dominates; how do we encourage more people back onto the land to grow wheat; who really grows the ‘best’ wheat, industrial farmers or small scale growers; all these questions and many more have been part of my research and continue to fascinate me. I have made it so.
My personal journey into the animate world around me has only just begun. An ember that has burned inside me since I was born has been caught by the breeze of Schumacher and fanned by discovering heritage grain growing. The fire that is now roaring inside me is set to burst out and envelope my whole body. When it does I hope it joins the skill of articulation developed by Merleau-Ponty so I too can describe ‘things’ in an active voice and wipe away that passive inactive voice that has so dominate my adult life. The sensible world is alive and perception can be described as a mutual interaction (Abrams, 1996) an intercourse of my body with things. Up there in the sunlight where the only shadows that role in are that of the earth itself, up there where the wind flows through the tress and lifts the feathers, up there where the sentient merges with the sensible is where my body yearns to be.
When I started this project I wanted this dissertation to be a business plan and to be presentable to a prospective landlord as a precursor to starting growing on their land. I saw the business as hierarchical and led by myself, I was looking at things like ‘how much land would it require to grow enough wheat that could make enough bread to give me a living wage?’ I worked out a lot of detail around each part of the process, outlined early in the dissertation, but soon realised that in order to work through in enough detail that it would take more time and space than I had at this point. That isn’t to say I have forgotten about the business side of things, on the contrary It’s still my aim to start a grain business, but in this dissertation I felt it essential to grapple with the foundations rather than the whole structure. To trail the business and the processes, to build heritage seed amounts, to formulate links and partnerships and to get to the bottom of what was so important in this process for me was what this dissertation is about. The trial has been one long action research spiral of inquiry, reflection, action and evaluation. With along the way important discoveries for the implications of any business. Over arching this must be the realization that it cannot be done alone, processing on your own is impossible on anything over ½ an acre, baking requires lots of equipment, seed gathering and bulking up will take five years to get to a position where you can grow enough to make bread and to save for following years. As all this is now part of my final research cycle and will be modified for my next baking project, that is already sprouting in many places, a farmer is willing to grow grain and harvest it for me, I have more grain from this years harvest and from seed banks, I have links with bakers already baking with fresh milled heritage grain. I have also started the south Devon grain co-operative and joined a farmer with a baker. My observation on what is happening here have begun…….